- Eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS): this is the newest entry into the DSM. It includes anorexics with bulimic tendencies; those who have disordered eating habits but are within a “normal” weight range; those who exhibit disordered eating tendencies of a different nature at different times such as periods of food restriction and starvation followed by periods of binging, or restriction followed by periods of binging and purging.- Binge eating disorder: compulsive overeating, “losing yourself” in eating food despite feeling satiated or nauseous. I later went through a period of binge eating and gained back more weight than I’d initially lost. - Pica: a compulsive craving for non-food items like chalk, paint, glue, etc.
Most people who entered the program were either anorexics or bulimics, but all of them, including me, landed somewhere on a spectrum. Disordered eating is about asserting absolute control over one aspect of life because other parts are lacking it. I now believe that I started regulating my eating because I was unhappy with the course my life was taking: I disliked my job and was overwhelmed by school. I was distraught moving home to the suburbs and was convinced that being thin and fit would bring me the happiness I craved elsewhere.
But it was about more than just control: anorexia can be likened to an addiction married to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the throws of my starvation, I rationally knew that I needed to eat in order to stay alive, but I was willing to let myself die so as not to disrupt a deeply satisfying compulsiveness. What began as a routine morphed into a regimen which became an anchor. I was no longer in control of my control; at some point my brain stopped functioning well enough to differentiate obsession from suicide. I clearly remember the point at which I gave up; I had decided to die because the way to health – nourishing myself – was a notion too unfamiliar to grasp.
Today it’s difficult to imagine going back there; even at my lowest, when I’m convinced things will never get better, I rarely consider restricting my food. But food controlled my life for nearly three years, as a functioning anorexic, as a non-functioning anorexic, as an inpatient, as an outpatient, as a binge eater, and finally as a survivor. The spectre of ED is so large, only my closest friends know what happened. That I am a man who went through and recovered from anorexia does not dictate whether I tell people, though it certainly complicates the situation.
Anorexia, and subsequently binge eating disorder, was about more than control. I was deeply dissatisfied with my life – both its present and its potential future. My parents had recently gone through an insipid, damaging divorce and my GPA had suffered as a result. I wanted to be a writer but was certain of failure. I hated my moodiness, my awkwardness, my inability to make friends. I was jealous of everyone, even the friends and loved ones who supported me as I lay dying.
Later, when I attended outpatient support groups at Sheena’s Place in Toronto, I was told never to refer to the disease as ‘my eating disorder’. It wasn’t something I willed, nor was it something I could fix on my own. But to this day I wonder, had I been more aware of what was happening to me, better educated about the disease and its effects, could I have prevented it? Does someone develop an eating disorder as one catches a cold? Or is it more insidious: was I predisposed to the disease, and depression, in conjunction with environmental factors, set it in motion? How much does one’s family history of mental illness play into the development of an ED, and why was it that I developed anorexia over manic depression or schizophrenia?
I am no neuroscientist, nor do I pretend to understand the correlation between genetics, environment and culture. I do know that I wanted to be thinner and found myself, six months later, nearly dead on the floor, a wasted mess, refusing to eat the apple I knew would save my life.
It took until 2009 before I stopped thinking about food all the time. It took falling in love to normalize my eating. And though I no longer restrict, I still evaluate what I eat in a way that many would consider disordered.
I want to refrain from judging the insidious culture that leads millions of women and men to certain self-hatred, but it should not escape unscathed. Though I am a heterosexual male, a member of the demographic least likely to develop an eating disorder in North America, I am one of a rising number. This disease in treacherous: it starts off as a meek cough and overnight turns into pneumonia. It kills people. It killed Meera.
Meera was one of my favourite people. She was so, so kind. When she was happy her laugh was infectious. When she hugged, it was with everything she had. I lost touch with her when I moved back to Toronto and re-entered the life I worked so hard to undo. I spoke to her a year before her death and she sounded as she always did – as we all did when we lied to ourselves – tortured by the certainty that she was out of control, and so painfully, mercifully, ready to die.